After three successful test flights, the Ingenuity Martian helicopter is ready to fly beyond the Red Planet.
The small helicopter will make its fourth flight today (April 29) at the Wright Brothers field in Mars Jezero Crater, where it landed with NASA’s Perseverance rover, and this helicopter aims to be the largest and most daring.
“When the Ingenuity pylons landed after this third flight, we knew we had more than enough data to help engineers design future generations of Mars helicopters,” said Ingenuity Chief Engineer J. “Bob” Balaram of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. California. , the message says. “We are now planning to expand the range, speed and duration to better understand performance.”
4 lbs. (1.8 kg) Ingenuity is expected to depart at 10:12 am ET (2:12 pm GMT) for its fourth flight. The flight data is due to arrive at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at 1:21 pm ET (1721 GMT), NASA officials said.
Video: Zoom in on the first Ingenuity helicopter flight to Mars.
Ingenuity made history when it first flew on April 19, when it hovered just 3 meters above the ground. Since then, he has made two more flights, each more than the last. The last helicopter flight took place on Sunday (April 25) when Ingenuity reached 16 feet (5 m), flew 164 feet (50 m) down range and reached a top speed of 6.6 feet per second, which is about 4.5 miles per hour (7.2 km / h). He also snapped a stunning aerial photograph of the Perseverance rover.
During the fifth Ingenuity flight, helicopter controllers aim to fly faster and for longer. If all goes according to plan, the Ingenuity will take off to an altitude of 16 feet and reach a top speed of 8 mph (12.8 km / h) in flight. It will first fly south about 276 feet (84 m) to photograph sand waves, rocks and small craters from above. If there are no problems, Ingenuity is expected to reach a point 436 feet (133 m) away, hover and take photos, and then return to his Wright brothers’ home.
“To reach the distance required for this reconnaissance flight, we are going to break our own Mars records set on our third flight,” Mars Helicopter reserve pilot Johnny Lam said in the same statement. “We are increasing our flight time from 80 seconds to 117, increasing our top speed from 2 meters per second to 3.5 (from 4.5 mph to 8) and more than doubling our total range.”
Connected: How NASA’s Martian Helicopter Ingenuity Could Fly the Red Planet
If Ingenuity’s fourth flight succeeds, the helicopter could make an even more daring fifth and final flight. MiMi Aung, Project Manager for Ingenuity at JPL, said earlier this month that she would like the helicopter to fly about 2,000 feet (600 m) on its final flight, if possible. But plans for a fifth flight will only be finalized after a fourth flight, Ingenuity’s curators said.
NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars on February 18 to deliver Ingenuity and begin a planned two-year mission to collect samples from the Red Planet and look for signs of past life. The five Ingenuity missions, divided by mission month, are a demonstration of technology proving that missions to Mars are possible and useful for future missions. Ingenuity’s flight window for its five flights closes in early May.
“Millions of miles from Earth, Ingenuity verified all the technical parameters that we had at NASA regarding the possibility of a controlled flight over the Red Planet,” said Laurie Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, in a statement. “Future Mars exploration missions can now confidently take into account the additional capabilities that aerial exploration can bring to science missions.”
Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@ or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.